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Prisoners: In-Cell Television

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 7 May 1996

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3.3 p.m.

Whether they consider that the removal of television sets from prisoners' cells is conducive to their rehabilitation.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced on 16th October 1995 his decision to reject Sir John Learmont's recommendation that in-cell television should be made widely available. We are reviewing the position in respect of prisoners who have in-cell television in the establishments where the privilege is at present allowed to varying extents, but final decisions have yet to be taken.

My Lords, do I gather from that Answer that the original statement that television in cells has been rejected has now been modified? Is the noble Baroness aware that everybody is opposed to this, including the Daily Mail, the last vestige of recondite Howardism, Sir John Learmont and so on? Am I to understand that the Government are for once backing down and showing good sense?

My Lords, I may have to disappoint the noble Earl. The Home Secretary in his response to Sir John Learmont still believes that televisions in cells would not be consistent with the view that prison conditions should be decent but austere. Nevertheless, he is considering the policy; not reconsidering the fundamental policy. Provision for prisoners to watch television in communal areas during association periods and the use of television for information and educational programmes will be unaffected by this policy.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give an indication of the average length of time spent in cell in Her Majesty's prisons, since clearly the whole matter depends upon that?

My Lords, I cannot give a precise answer. However, more prisoners than ever before spend more than 12 hours each day out of their cells. The improvement has been dramatic in the past three years. Forty-one per cent. of prisoners now spend more than 12 hours per day out of their cells compared with 24 per cent. only three years ago.

My Lords, does not the Minister's first answer shows a remarkable degree of indecision? It is more than six months since the Home Secretary opposed Sir John Learmont's view. We still do not know what the policy is. Prisoners do not know whether existing televisions are to be removed, whether there are to be separate categories for separate kinds of prison, like local prisons, or whether the presumed policy as announced by the Home Secretary is to be modified in any way. Is not such indecision a recipe for unrest in our prisons?

My Lords, there is certainly no indecision. The noble Lord may well have noticed that the Home Secretary and the Home Office have been particularly busy on departmental policy in recent times. But there are important considerations, including timetabling, order and control and giving prisoners due notice. All these matters need to be taken into account in coming to a conclusion about the policy. However, the principle that in-cell television is not consistent with decent but austere provisions is still the basic policy. What we are considering here is implementation.

My Lords, in that case should not the Home Secretary consider the implications before making off-the-cuff comments, as he has?

My Lords, my right honourable friend has not changed his fundamental view about in-cell television. He strongly believes that people who enter prison for wrong-doing should give up some of their everyday activities, one of which is in-cell television.

My Lords, if any action is to be taken, will the Minister at least consider the desirability of using televisions in cells as an incentive to good conduct, and in particular allow them to be installed in such areas as drug-free wings?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and his department very much believe that constructive activities are more effective in rehabilitation programmes than simply sitting around in cells watching television.